New book gives women a voice on menopause

There is no shame in being a menopausal woman in 2021, so says Breeda Bermingham, who launches a new book on the subject, this month, writes EMMA CONNOLLY
New book gives women a voice on menopause

Former midwife and public health nurse, Breeda Bermingham who has written a book called 'Midlif Women Rock: A Menopause Story for A New Generation'.

UNLIKE pregnancy and childbirth, every woman goes through menopause, yet publicly accessible information remains poor. There’s no preparation and no education available in Ireland to enable women to successfully navigate this phase of life.

That’s according to Breeda Bermingham, a former midwife and public health nurse whose book Midlife Women Rock: A Menopause Story For A New Generation will be published shortly.

Breeda has a masters in sociology on menopause in Ireland, and her research in Maynooth University points to the fact that the public silence and shame around menopause is the real enemy.

Fear, denial, stigma and shame were repeated narratives emerging from her interviews of women on their experiences and understandings of this life transition.

“But this is not only an issue in Ireland, it is global and needs to be changed,” said the mother-of-four.

From working with women over the past two years, she has witnessed how education, understanding and support is transformative. Once women understand menopause and are educated on options to manage their symptoms, they take control and the lived experience completely changes.

Breeda’s new book provides a map and compass, a complete guide to any woman or man who wants to understand everything about menopause, diagnosis, management and evolving research.

“Furthermore, it investigates how we have got here, what has happened that women have remained silent on this subject for decades. Why are we fearful? It is filled with women’s voices along with stories revolving around the power of women working together to help one another at this time in our lives. We have to keep talking to one another and sharing our stories,” she said.

The Kerry woman, who lives in Waterford, says she sees the menopause years as being like travelling over a bridge – at times it’s rocky and unsteady, other times smooth, but you will get over it.

“Reaching out for support and educating yourself makes the journey easier and often shorter, as you take control. 

"I have witnessed many women investing in sessions with a menopause coach, a menopause nutritionist, or personal trainer with a special interest in midlife women and menopause, and this enables women to powerfully move through these years. You are worth it.”

Her advice to anyone at the start of perimenopause and who may be feeling confused, bewildered, and exhausted is to visit their GP.

“Bring along your symptom checker, get your bloods done, full blood count, vitamin D, B12, FSH, LH and if hormone replacement (HRT) is something you would like to try, talk to the doctor.

“Not everyone wants to, or is able to take HRT. Rest assured there are lots of other options that can help with symptoms. Recently a major study on the use of sage, (tablets, tea, drops) has shown a dramatic decrease in flushes and night sweats. Every woman has an individual experience, this is why it can be complex. There is no one template to assist all. You are unique. It’s about finding what works for you.

“Pharmacies and health food shops can be helpful, increasingly stocking over the counter remedies for symptoms, again you find what works for you.

“Women sharing what they have found works is of great assistance. Remember, this is a phase of life.”

A place on Social Entrepreneurs Ireland (SEI) Academy also saw Breeda set up Midlife Women Rock Café in Waterford - a safe space where women gather monthly to become educated and informed on menopause. The cafes were face-to-face for six months pre-pandemic.

They now take place on Zoom and over this past year women have joined in from all over Ireland, along with Scotland and the UK, showing the appetite for understanding this time in every woman’s life.

The next café is on Zoom on the last Wednesday in October. See her website for more.

“The old negative story has limited too many women from reaching their full potential at this time in life. This story handed down generationally has to be challenged. Putting structures and systems in place to tackle the taboo and provide widespread education and support will be transformative for women and society.

“The Irish government’s commitment to a nationwide education and awareness campaign will be a game- changer as it is another step in normalising the discourse around this time of women’s lives.

“But some 99% of the women I work with have never heard a positive word about menopause and are both shocked and overjoyed when I reveal the hidden research around this. The truth is there is no shame in being a menopausal woman in 2021. The silence has to go.”

See midlifewomenrockproject.com

Midlife Women Rock: A menopause story for a new generation will be available to pre-order on amazon from October 18.

What is menopause?

Breeda says: “Menopause is a highly significant transition in a woman’s life. It can be seen as the reversal of puberty and marks the end of the reproductive phase of life.

“It is clinically defined as the day after a woman has no period for 12 consecutive months if over 50, and 24 months if under 50 years. Average age is 51 years.”

What is perimenopause?

Breeda says: “Perimenopause is a word I had never heard of before I started researching in 2018, a consequence of taboo and silence.

“This is the phase prior to a woman reaching menopause. It usually occurs in our 40s and can last a number of years. The fluctuations in our reproductive hormones can bring about many symptoms it is important that women are aware of the symptoms, ranging from physical to emotional and psychological.

“Far too many women are in perimenopause or in crisis with symptoms of perimenopause, not realising what is happening. I was one of these women.

“Statistics report 80% of women experience varying degrees of symptoms and most manage by finding what works for them: Lifestyle changes, supplements, alternative therapies or hormone replacement.

“However, approximately 20% of women will require specialist care navigating these years.”

How is menopause diagnosed?

Breeda says: “Blood tests for over 45s are of little relevance, as our hormones are fluctuating throughout the day and a one off test would be an inaccurate marker.

“Keeping track of symptoms along with monthly periods is the best indicator to tell you if you are perimenopausal. For under 45s, a blood test is recommended.

“Check out the symptom checker on my website www.midlifewomenrockproject.com”

Statistics in Ireland

There are over 400,000 women at various stages of menopause in Ireland and 13 million in the United Kingdom. The UK leads the world globally in opening up the conversation on this time in women’s lives. which has been shrouded in secrecy and silence for too many years. with consequences only beginning to emerge. The average age a woman reaches menopause is 51 years, and 1% or 1 in every 100 women reach menopause before the age of 40.

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